Hardwood Flooring Finishes

The purpose of applying a finish to wood is simply to protect it.  Over time wood will discolor and become very dry. So polyurethane is applied as a liquid and drys into a thin but hard surface that keeps the wood pristine.  There are several things to think about and to consider with choosing your finish.  You will need to think about qualities like “ambering”, sheen level, VOCs, odor, dry time and the cure time.


Some polyurethanes have a natural amber color to them, this over time will become a little more prominent as the wood and poly age.  This can create gorgeous oranges,yellows and reds that can only be made with time and care.  Now oil based is particulary known for its’ ambering nature, however some waterborne products have the ambering quality to them.

Sheen Level

sheen level is the glossiness of the finish.  If a customer desires a very shiny floor , then gloss or high-gloss will their choice.  If a customer likes a very dry low profile floor they might want to go with a matte or satin.  If you do not want to shiny or too dull, then a semi-gloss might be your preference.  The only thing to consider when choosing sheen level is scratches, the shinier the floor, the more noticeable scratches will be.

VOCs / Odors

VOC stands for volatile organic compound, which are gases emitted from most polyurethanes, that in large amounts are harmful to the environment.  VOCs produced by polyurethane drastically lower indoor air quality until enough ventilation occurs to rid the space of the gases.  Certain health effects that will occur in this time but are limited to, nose, throat and eye irritation.  They can also cause loss of coordination, headaches and possibly nausea. These VOCs can easily be detected during and after the finish is applied the strong odor that it also emits.  This odor alone is fairly strong, and is usually only withstand-able for a few hours.  So two thing to consider with VOCs / odors are whether or not a customer is staying in the home during the finishing process, and if the customer wants to take a “Green” approach.

Dry / Cure Time

Dry time is fairly obvious, the time it takes for the coat to dry.  The cure time is the amount of time required for the coat of finish to be 100% in strength.  With most finishes, cure time is very consistent, which it takes at least 7 days.  This means that no furniture or rugs can be placed on the hardwood floors until 7 days have passed since the last coat. Now the big difference is with dry time.  Waterborne polyurethane dries in 2-3 hours and can have another coat applied right after, where as oil based polyurethane needs at least 8 hours.  So a floor going oil based can only get coated once a day.

Waterborne Polyurethane

Waterborne polyurethane is a polyurethane in which water is the main solvent used instead of other by products that emit VOCs. This means that water based polyurethane is environmentally friendly.  As mentioned before waterborne products dry enough to walk lightly (in socks) in about 3 hours.  There is also nearly no odor to these types of products.  Thus if a homeowner wishes to stay in their home over the process of finishing a floor, this will be the choice for them.  To learn more about waterborne polyurethane and find out about their advantages and disadvantages please click here or on the link below.

Waterborne Polyurethane

Brand and LineDry timeCure TimeWhat is itSheen Level AvailabilityTraffic/Walking Level Ambering

Bona Traffic HD
2-3 Hours7 DaysThis is Bona's top of the line non- ambering water base finish extra matte, satin,semi-glossExtra heavy trafficNo

Bona Traffic
2-3 Hours7 Dayssatin, semi-gloss, glossExtra heavy trafficNo

Bona mega
2-3 Hours7 Daysextra matte, satin, semi-gloss, glossMedium TrafficYes

Bona mega HD clear
2-3 Hours7 Daysextra matte, satin, semi-gloss, glossHeavyNo

Please click here to view more of Bona products.

Oil Based Polyurethane

Oil based polyurethane has been this industries standard finish for several decades.  It is a very consistent and easy to work with product, it has the same variety of sheen levels as any waterborne polyurethane would have.  Oil base polyurethane will have a an amber shade to it, and this “ambering” will get a little more prominent over time.